Low CO2 is toxic?

Blair King of A Chemist in Langley made some claims about CO2 in a conversation I got into. Specifically, he said

that 1000 ppm of CO2 can cause people to have complaints:

that an afternoon in 2000 ppm of CO2 would cause crushing headaches:

He was quite assured as he spoke from experience:

I expressed skepticism at the stated effects of CO2 at such low concentrations. Blair ended up writing a post summarizing the human effects of ambient CO2 at different concentrations.

Here’s the passage on low CO2 concentrations from his blog post. Basically, he repeats his claims:

We all know that at atmospheric concentrations it is essentially harmless, but what about concentrations between atmospheric (400 ppm) and the problematic doses (over 10,000 ppm). Well the answer is that it varies. The literature is clear that your body will adapt to those concentrations and will quickly adapt back once the exposure is reversed. As for what happens in the meantime, well there is an entire academic field on “sick building syndrome” that gives a pretty clear indication of what happens. The following references all discuss how elevated carbon dioxide concentrations (Apte et al, 2000, Wargocki et al, 2000, Seppanen, Fisk and Mendall, 1999) effect human health. All point out that a proportion of the human population reacts poorly to daily variations in carbon dioxide concentrations. This is understandable since, as a vasodilator, it would be expected to have particular effects on people prone to migraines or headaches.

What does he say?

  1. The literature on sick building syndrome says what happens when humans are exposed to CO2
  2. The listed papers discuss the effects on elevated CO2 on human health
  3. CO2 is a vasodilator and causes headaches so the above is understandable, i.e, there is a biologic mechanism to underpin the epidemiologic and experimental observations

The problem is, many of these things are wrong.

[1] Sick building syndrome is a constellation of symptoms and findings occurring in people in indoor environments that is thought to be related to air quality, among other things.

The exact cause of sick building syndrome (SBS) is not known. But ventilation and renewal of indoor air ameliorate the syndrome in many instances. Because the entities present in indoor air thought to cause SBS are numerous, and unknown in specific cases, researchers have used ambient air CO2 concentrations as a proxy for air quality.

Indoor CO2 increases in buildings where people live and work. Ventilation refreshes indoor air volumes, removes any causative factor present and removes CO2 that builds up in the same indoor environment. Which means CO2 becomes an effective proxy for air quality and adequate ventilation and does away with the need to identify and measure the offending substance in each instance.

Blair appears to have confused the role played by CO2 in SBS research to its causative agent.

Look at the abstract of Apte et al 2000, one of the papers cited:

Higher indoor concentrations of air pollutants due, in part, to lower ventilation rates are a potential cause of sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms in office workers. The indoor carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration is an approximate surrogate for indoor concentrations of other occupant-generated pollutants and for ventilation rate per occupant …

[2] You can examine the literature on sick building syndrome. They are the result of work examining different causative agents – bioaerosols, mold, bacteria, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), temperature, humidity, particulate matter, building dust, paper, printer ink, and so forth.

Studies that examine ventilation efficacy, using CO2 as a proxy, cannot be used to infer the health effects of elevated CO2. The studies are observational and the several potential causative factors – as listed above – simultaneously co-vary with CO2.  The human effects of elevated CO2 – whatever they might be – are confounded in these studies.

[3] CO2 has central nervous system vasoactive actions in a linear fashion. Vasodilation-mediated headache is reliably seen starting between 2-5% inhaled CO2 whereas 2000 ppm corresponds to 0.2%, a value 10 times lower. Reports of headaches occurring in concentrations lower than 2% certainly exist but are anecdotal.

In fact, literature on the effects of low CO2 concentrations of the 0.2-2% range (not SBS studies) is sparse. A recent review by NASA (Stanovic et al 2016) examined 76 studies and reported headache to be a common physiologic symptom. But many, if not most of them looked at concentrations much higher than 1000-2000 ppm CO2 – typically in the 3-7.5% range.

What about effects other than headache?

One outlier set of studies that demonstrated dramatic effects for low indoor CO2 on mental performance come from Usha Satish and co-authors.

You can incur brain damage by reading Thinkprogress hype on one of the studies from the group:

Romm Hype CO2 Cognition

The Thinkprogress article makes the same  error as Blair but goes well beyond in typical Romm fashion pinning 20 years worth of low ‘productivity, learning, and test scores’ in SBS studies on CO2:

All of this new research is consistent with — and actually helps explain — literally dozens of studies in the past two decades that find low to moderate levels of CO2 have a negative impact on productivity, learning, and test scores. See here for a research note and bibliography of some 20 studies and review articles.

On the other hand if one actually reads the research note Romm links to, it simply reviews the SBS literature with studies examining every known indoor pollutant – from new office furnishings emanating VOCs and old carpets giving off mold.

As noted, no categorical statement/s about effects of CO2 can be made from such studies.

A similar rush to judgment and loose methodological  language blaming indoor CO2 is seen in literature examining classroom performance of children in schools. Many are observational in design with indoor CO2 co-varying with other ambient constituents. Nevertheless, the measurement proxy is turned into the offender.

The heights of low low-CO2 junk science hysteria are unsurpassed in a self-published review by  Phil Bierwirth of the Australian National University, in whose hands everything from kidney stones, cancers, neurological diseases, viral infections to mental incapacitation to extinction of the human race is brought about by low CO2

If allowed to persist, problems such as kidney calcification could lead to renal
failure. In the extreme case lifespans could become shorter than the time required to reach reproductive age. This would result in extinction of the species

One doesn’t have look too far to decode this  CO2-demonizing madness:

The main aim of this paper was to explore the question of toxicity for human breathing at levels of CO2 that could be attained with the continued unabated rise in atmospheric CO2 associated with climate change.

Back in the real world, what the results of the Satish-associated studies mean is not clear as their low CO2 findings are not yet reproducibly observed.

As Stanovic et al note:

On the other hand, several investigations have contradicted these observations entirely, finding no consistent relationships between CO2 exposure and either cognitive or motor functioning, in terms of speed, accuracy, or throughput.

The authors conclude:

While many studies have thus far addressed the impact of CO2 concentration on cognition, the inconsistent and contradictory nature of current findings limits the ability to draw firm conclusions about the impact of elevated CO2 exposure on sleep, cognition, and psychomotor performance.

In conclusion, the effects of low CO2 – in the 1000 ppm range – are mild, inconsistent, and mostly nonexistent in adapted individuals as almost all people working indoors are bound to be.

More importantly, they are not enough to label CO2 as being toxic at such concentrations.

Lastly it shouldn’t require to be pointed out causal inferences cannot be drawn from observational studies when confounders are present, especially when the studies themselves make this clear.


1. Apte MG, Fisk WJ, and Daisey JM. Associations Between Indoor CO 2 Concentrations and Sick Building Syndrome Symptoms in US Office Buildings: An Analysis of the 1994-1996 BASE Study Data. Indoor air 2000.
2. Bierwirth P. Effects of rising carbon dioxide levels on human health via breathing toxicity – A critical issue that remains unapprehended. 2014.
3. Brian JE. Carbon dioxide and the cerebral circulation. Anesthesiology 1998.
4. Burge PS. Sick building syndrome. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 61: 185-190, 2004.
5. Daisey JM, Angell WJ, and Apte MG. Indoor air quality, ventilation and health symptoms in schools: an analysis of existing information. Indoor Air 13: 53-64, 2003.
6. Law J, Watkins S, and Alexander D. In-flight carbon dioxide exposures and related symptoms: association, susceptibility, and operational implications. NASA Technical Paper 2010.
7. Ramalho O, Wyart G, Mandin C, Blondeau P, Cabanes P-A, Leclerc N, Mullot J-U, Boulanger G, and Redaelli M. Association of carbon dioxide with indoor air pollutants and exceedance of health guideline values. Building and Environment 93: 115-124, 2015.
8. Satish U, Mendell MJ, Shekhar K, Hotchi T, Sullivan D, Streufert S, and Fisk WJ. Is CO2 an indoor pollutant? Direct effects of low-to-moderate CO2 concentrations on human decision-making performance. Environmental health perspectives 120: 1671-1677, 2012.
9. Stankovic A, Alexander D, Oman CM, and Schneiderman J. A Review of Cognitive and Behavioral Effects of Increased Carbon Dioxide Exposure in Humans. NASA Technical Paper 2016.
10. Wargocki P, Wyon DP, Sundell J, and Clausen G. The effects of outdoor air supply rate in an office on perceived air quality, sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms and productivity. Indoor Air 2000.


Skeptics set to lose climate debate?


Larry Kummer of Fabius Maximus writes on WUWT how skeptics could lose the climate debate in the US.

The skeptics have already lost the climate debate. The thing is a disastrous mess waiting for the right alignment of stars to tumble into the ditch.

The Obama administration’s attempts at pushing legislative (and extra-legislative) climate measures have been relentless. Cap-and-trade failed but was quickly followed by the EPA’s rulemaking efforts on CO2. A lackluster performance at Copenhagen was followed by a masterful bullying act at Paris.

Paris is hands-down a success for the climate alarmists. To those quick to point out the agreement is not legally binding: how did we reach a point where the legality of a monstrous agreement like Paris is the consolation?

‘Paris’ is like the patchwork homunculus of Korbal Broach. A skittering mass of disparate climate body parts cobbled together, it has life breathed into it at the moment. Before long the COP technocracy will attempt to give it teeth. Enforcement, punitive measures, sanctions, and trade wars are coming.

The Obama administration climate agenda has temporarily stalled with the states putting up a fight at the US Supreme Court. But these moves are temporary. Regardless of who wins the next general election, the climate agenda will roll on.

With Clinton the default position is continuation of the status quo. With Trump, there is a good chance he would be tempted by climate activism presented as an opportunity to economically hurt China, India and Mexico. It is not clear the others have any coherent climate-related ideas, or whether they stand a chance of winning.

Kummer cites opinion polls as elements that sway the climate debate one way or the other. While this is certainly true, climate activists have accomplished much damage with little active public support. Climate activism is a top-down elite-driven process that sustains itself. Public support for its actions is just an added bonus or an irritant, depending on how it turns.

Defeating climate activism in the US requires significant restructuring of how climate science is funded and conducted, and the complete winding down of the COP process.

Slowdown Seepage Catfight

Slow? Slow compared to what? Reality is not slow, or fast or anything. Reality is what it is.

Yes, it’s slow compared to the ’90s. So? That’s ‘slow’ only if you expected it would continue to warm at the same rate.

It’s also slow compared to the models. That’s not ‘slow’, that’s the models being fast. The models are hotter. And the models are definitely man-made.

So yes, it’s not the climate that’s slow.

It’s the models that are hot, and your expectations that were high.


Twitter woes

I don’t know how many readers of this blog use Twitter but I certainly do. I have had a fairly long run of using the platform but I believe the fun has come to an end.

Those of you who used the internet from the ‘early days’ would remember or relate to this easily. The web was static pages, email lists, forums, using many search engines, ‘under construction’ icons and pages that looked like this:


Or like this:


The core defining elements however took shape during those days: open interaction and information flow, robust debate, and virtual identities. The political histories of the countries that contributed to the growth of the internet, and the peculiar type of people who would learn to use computers to ‘go online’ gave rise to this culture.

Importantly, the core elements were there before newspapers and agencies, corporations, broadcasters, government agencies, or even blogs, came to the web. Initially the big players tried to merely replicate what they did in the real world, online. News articles would just be pages, for instance, online shopping websites would only allow you to buy stuff. Blogs would just be people’s personal journals.

Soon enough it was evident entities had to do what the internet did, on the internet. It was far more profitable to encapsulate a little piece of the internet inside your product. If you were a company maintaining a ‘presence’ on the web, a static website would be fine. But if you were someone trying to attract users, hold their attention and gain something in the process, you had to play by the rules of the free net.

With the growth of blogs ‘the internet’ moved into these spaces. In a way it can be said the blogs are where it truly still lives. Blogs (more precisely the database architecture behind them) brought the another core defining element: the permalink. User-generated online speech/content had become citable and indexable, like academic papers.

With the growth of social media websites a few things happened. First, a lot of interactivity and debate has moved into these platforms. A lot of the internet has drained into these venues. A second observation that can be made is that social media platforms do not provide anything new in an internet architectural context. Lastly it can be said there are a now substantial number of people who are online, who have only known the net via the prism of social media. In other words they don’t know of an internet apart from and outside of it.

Consider Twitter at this juncture. It is used by millions of people. Yet it offers little new speaking in terms of mechanism: it is a micro-blogging platform and nothing more. The latter point is particularly important.

If a blog user or a news agency prevents you from posting content on their website, there would be nothing you could do – after all the owner controls the venue. But the owner exists inside the larger ecosystem of the internet and there would nothing he could do to prevent you from publishing content elsewhere. Additionally, there is a practical limit on how much censorship one could keep performing at one’s own venue. This is because of the underlying free nature of information flow on the internet. Unlike where brutal governments employing force would absolutely suppress opinion or fact, information suppression cannot be absolute online.

But what happens, or could happen with something like Twitter? First, if much of the internet drained into it there would not be an ecosystem outside, of which Twitter would be a part of.

Second, the individuality and quirkiness of censorship itself, ironically, would disappear. For instance if a climate skeptic visited ATTP’s blog and left a comment critical of him he might delete it. On a microblogging platform like Twitter, the skeptic’s tweet could not be conveniently bumped off by ATTP. The permalinks belong in a single common pool the company controls!

But there would be a hidden downside. The same tweet might become subject to an opaque Orwellian Twitter rule that “scientists cannot be criticized with hatespeak on our platform”. Or more familiarly, a Twitter ‘policy’ might decree that climate skeptics views would not be tolerated on their plaftorm and your tweet would get the boot. Blanket rules made by committees would exert vast but diffuse power.

Now imagine if ATTP, Gavin Schmidt, and Michael Mann were made members of a Twitter ‘Trust and Safety Council’. Picture ATTP translating his ‘comment policy‘ for use by the Twitter on climate skeptics.

The good ol’ days when these stalwarts of climate justice were confined to their own blogs snipping comments would suddenly seem very attractive.

As it happens, social media platforms have not yet swallowed the internet whole. But many millions live in them, and want the rules of the old internet erased or re-written. Unstated rules and arbitrary bans have multiplied on Twitter. Lastly there actually is such a thing as a Twitter Trust and Safety Council that advises the company. Though it doesn’t have climate folk on it like the hypothetical above it has people with an axe to grind on video games.  Yesterday a critic of activists who are on this ridiculous abomination of a ‘Council’ was suspended from Twitter.

Twitter has an appealing and intelligent chunk of the internet, of all social media platforms. Of them all it closely recapitulates the conventions of blogging but yet provides for real-time interaction. This unique combination throws up many interesting results: Twitter is unbeatable in topical news and event coverage. It is a great place to set off public mob shaming campaigns, and festivals of moral outrage. Consequently it ends up as a great place to forensically de-construct events and reactions as well, as was performed by Louise Mensch in the Tim Hunt twitter shaming debacle.

I came in contact and made online friends with many people on Twitter and learned many new things because of Twitter. It has some of the good stuff – the surprises and growth that can come with robust emergent interaction.

But delusions of grandeur, arbitrariness, ceding platform control to weird single issue players, mucking about hashtag suppression and  ‘shadowbans’ via code (!), and and an itchiness for blanket rule application on what’s essentially a self-balancing, equilibrating process, i.e, on its little slice of the internet, has made Twitter increasingly unattractive and unsavory. An alternative which closely mirrors Twitter but devolves control of content regulation to its users would be a serious competitor.

[edits and updates 2/21/2016]. I archived the earlier version of the post here.



CSIRO in tears

There has been a huge uproar in CSIRO which is set to shed scientist jobs following a restructuring by its boss Larry Marshall, who was brought in specifically to effect change.

The scientists are upset because ‘they are passionate about what they do’ and some of them have ‘spent 20 or 30 years working in a particular area’ and ‘that’s what gets them out of bed in the morning’.

If they lose their jobs all this would be … gone.

For a profession engaged in the radical transformation of the entire world, these notions seem hypocritical and peculiarly sentimental. Attached to their jobs, livelihoods, fulfilling professions, and a sense of purpose in life… how quaint.

After all, these are things climate scientists, indirectly, worked day in and out to eliminate for thousands upon thousands of people everywhere.

If we want to cut carbon we need to eliminate waste and redundancy. Climate science is settled. Who is redundant once ‘the science’ is settled?


RICO-teering: How climate activists ‘knew’ they were going to pin the blame on Exxon

Picture this.

You are a scientist. You wake up one morning and go:

“Why don’t I write a letter to the US Attorney General asking her to throw fossil fuel companies in jail under the RICO act?

It would be my civic deed for the day”.

Sounds plausible?

No it doesn’t. Climate scientists have a penchant for signing activist letters. But letters pushing legal advice to an Attorney General recommending prosecution of opponents?

So where do these strange ideas come from?

Step forward ‘Climate Accountability Institute’

The Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) is a small front attempting to marry ‘climate concerns’ to environmentalism and tobacco prohibitionist tactics. But ‘small’ is a relative term in the climate activist world.

In 2012 the CAI held a ‘workshop’ in La Jolla California. It was ‘conceived’ by Naomi Oreskes and others, and called ‘Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages: Lessons from Tobacco Control.’ Stanton Glantz, a prominent tobacco control activist scientist was present as were a clutch of lawyers, climate scientists, communication professionals, PR agency heads, bloggers and journalists.

They released a report (pdf):

CAI report

The workshop was an ‘exploratory, open-ended dialogue’ on the use of  ‘lessons from tobacco-related education, laws, and litigation to address climate change.’

The headline conclusion was essentially conspiracy theory. Here it is, verbatim (emphasis mine):

A key breakthrough in the public and legal case for tobacco control came when internal documents came to light showing the tobacco industry had knowingly misled the public. Similar documents may well exist in the vaults of the fossil fuel industry and their trade associations and front groups…

Why do these mythical documents needed to be ‘unearthed’?

While we currently lack a compelling public narrative about climate change in the United States, we may be close to coalescing around one. Furthermore, climate change may loom larger today in the public mind than tobacco did when public health advocates began winning policy victories.

The reader should take a moment to grasp the momentous logic: We know legally ‘incriminating documents’ (their choice of words) ‘may’ exist, because tobacco activists had a breakthrough with such documents. They need to be found in order to make climate change a ‘looming threat’ in the public mind. 

Try thinking of a more reverse-engineered form of activism.

The first chapter in the report is ‘Lessons from Tobacco Control’. It is mainly one section called ‘The Importance of Documents in Tobacco Litigation’

importance tobacco

We learn next to nothing about these supposed ‘documents’ from the report. After all, they haven’t been released or even found.

But ‘the documents’ were very valuable:

says ‘one of the most important lessons to emerge from the history of tobacco litigation’ was the ‘value of bringing internal industry documents to light’.

There was little doubt about their existence:

… many participants suggested that incriminating documents may exist that demonstrate collusion among the major fossil fuel companies …

Since they were so sure they exist, careful plotting was needed on companies whose vaults to raid

He [Glantz] stressed the need to think carefully about which companies and which trade groups might have documents that could be especially useful.

Stanton Glantz was a vocal workshop participant:exciting

Glantz was so excited he proposed using the tobacco archives platform at the University of California San Francisco for climate documents (which were yet to be found)

Because the Legacy Collection’s software and infrastructure is already in place, Glantz suggested it could be a possible home for a parallel collection of documents from the fossil fuel industry pertaining to climate change.

In what mode were the documents to be used?


Most importantly, the release of these documents meant that charges of conspiracy or racketeering could become a crucial component of tobacco litigation

Having firmly established that documents convenient to their strategy existed, the delegates moved on to discussing how to obtain them


The answer was once again clear: ‘lawsuits’. It was not just lawsuits, it was ‘Congressional hearings’, ‘sympathetic state attorney generals’ and ‘false advertising claims’.

State attorneys general can also subpoena documents, raising the possibility that a single sympathetic state attorney general might have substantial success in bringing key internal documents to light

Oreskes had a bunch of advertisements with her:

Oreskes noted that she has some of the public relations memos from the group and asked whether a false advertising claim could be brought in such a case.

Even libel suits were deemed useful:

Roberta Walburn noted that libel suits can also serve to obtain documents that might shed light on industry tactics.

Once the documents were in the bag, a story needed to be spun. :

In lawsuits targeting carbon producers, lawyers at the workshop agreed, plaintiffs need

to make evidence of a conspiracy a prominent part of their case.

Now you know where the line on how ‘fossil fuel companies ‘knew’ they were doing wrong but yet did it’ comes from. The cries of ‘it’s a conspiracy!’ are planned and pre-meditated, on lawyers’ advice.

This is where RICO came in:

Richard Ayres, an experienced environmental attorney, suggested that the RICO Act, which had been used effectively against the tobacco industry, could similarly be used to bring a lawsuit against carbon producers.

Richard Ayres is no slouch. A prominent environmental lawyer, he is co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Ayres knew starting lawsuits against productive companies wouldn’t look good. They needed to be spun:

It has to be something positive

How? By dressing it up as injury ‘compensation’

Even if your ultimate goal might be to shut down a company, you still might be wise to start out by asking for compensation for injured parties.”

The suggestions appeared to grow outlandish at every turn. Richard Heede, one of CAI’s members, had come up with a system for blaming individual companies:

Heede is working to derive the proportion of the planet’s atmospheric carbon load that is traceable to the fossil fuels produced and marketed by each of these companies

Heede’s bizarre formulas, we learn, were received ‘positively’ by ‘most of the workshop’s participants’. One UCS participant felt that ‘it could potentially be useful as part of a coordinated campaign to identify key climate “wrongdoers.” Another felt it was useful in blaming faceless corporate entities instead of countries thereby bypassing provoking patriotic impulses in international negotiations.

Heede’s work was funded by Greenpeace. Of note, Greenpeace counsel Jasper Teulings was present at the meeting.

An inspired Oreskes then appears to have proposed blaming sea level rise on corporations:

Picking up on this notion, Naomi Oreskes suggested that some portion of sea level rise could be attributed to the emissions caused by a single carbon-producing company

The oil company Exxon made its appearance in her example:

She suggested, “You might be able to say, ‘Here’s Exxon’s contribution to what’s happening to Key West or Venice.’”

This was a strategy Glantz liked:

…Stanton Glantz expressed some enthusiasm about such a strategy, based on his experience with tobacco litigation. As he put it, “I would be surprised if the industry chose to attack the calculation that one foot of flooding in Key West could be attributed to ExxonMobil.

The conspiratorial tide did not recede. Former computer scientist John Mashey claimed collusion between ‘climate change deniers’ and fossil fuel companies:

[Mashey] presented a brief overview of some of his research, which traces funding, personnel, and messaging connections between roughly 600 individuals …

The penultimate section in the report is on how delegates planned to win ‘public opinion’. Even with RICO, some felt it was ‘not easy’ (‘RICO is not easy. It is certainly not a sure win’ – Ayres) and others were wary of drawing the attention of “hostile legislators who might seek to undermine them”.

With public opinion, the delegates were clearly divided. PR mavens, lawyers and activists wanted to cry fraud, paint up villains and create outrage:

To mobilize, people often need to be outraged.

Daniel Yankelovich a ‘public opinion researcher’ involved in ‘citizen education’ appears to have balked at the ‘sue, sue, sue’ chanting. Court cases are useful only after the public had been won over, he said.


It is not clear he grasped the activists and lawyers aimed for the same with a spectacular legal victory or headlines generated by court cases and bypass the whole issue of ‘citizen education’ .

The workshop ended and there was ‘agreement’. ‘Documents’ needed to be obtained. Legal action was needed both for ‘wresting potentially useful internal documents’ and ‘maintaining pressure on the industry’.

A consensus had emerged

… an emerging consensus on a strategy that incorporates legal action with a narrative that creates public outrage.

The participants, we learn

…made commitments to try to coordinate future efforts, continue discussing strategies for gaining access to internal documents from the fossil fuel industry and its affiliated climate denial network…


Photo (c) Brenda Ekwurzel, from the report


Why is the report important? Because climate activists have done everything the delegates said they wanted done, in the report.

Everyone from climate skeptics like Roy Spencer, columnists like Holman Jenkins Jr and even a consensusist like William Connolley has been left scratching their head. However, from RICO to ‘Exxon knew’ — the twin defibrillator paddles in use to reanimate a moribund climate Frankenstein — the present actions of climate activists have been none but the pre-meditated ones presented in the report.

These include the latest letter from US Senators to Exxon, the conspiratorial ‘Exxon Knew’ campaign with the portrayal of old Exxon reports by InsideClimateNews as ‘internal documents’, the RICO letter from scientists and much more. Particularly, with the pathetic ‘journalism’ of InsideClimateNews it is almost as if climate activists have willed these ‘documents’ into existence – just as they were advised.

The CAI are free to plot the downfall of their opponents. But it is somewhat of a surprise to see the entirety of their ideas to be picked up and translated into action by the intellectually bankrupt climate activist movement.

Klinger and the RICO debacle

Arrested for eating all the donuts

Climate skeptic arrested for eating all donuts (j/k click on link for full story)

To get a grip on the Jagadish Shukla Barbara Streisand Own-goal Backfire Effect, you should start with Paul Matthews’ summary. Briefly, a bunch of scientists headed by Shukla decided to jump on the climate-tobacco bandwagon with a letter (to none less the American president) seeking persecution of ‘corporations and other organizations’ under the US RICO Act. The bunch then hastily fled the field, taking the letter down, when it was shown Shukla’s own various organizations were less than squeaky clean with federal funding.

But Shukla’s colleague Barry Klinger still hangs on at the scene of the crime so to speak, as he pens thoughts on ‘why RICO’ and his ‘ambivalence’ about the letter (which he fully signed).

These show the contradictory mish-mash that climate scientists seem to pass off as their understanding of the climate debate. To a fault, none of it seems to extend beyond the latest New York Times or Washington Post article and faithfully incorporates every trope and cliché sold by climate activists and PR hacks.

The first underlying mythical assumption of Klinger et al is a common one: the work of climate scientists greatly threatens the fossil fuel industry, which is scared of them. Fossil fuel companies provide a convenient, cartoonish ‘evil corporation‘ target for climate activists, and those in climate science with a world-justifying fuzzy feeling from imagining themselves ranged against powerful, unbeatable opponents.

In sociologic terms, fossil fuel companies are the folk-devil. But beyond this, there is little substance to the fantasy. Fossil fuel companies and their products are tightly interwoven with the fabric of modern life. Writing bad things about them is no more a ‘threat’ to them than cataloguing the evils of water (drowning, sweating) is a threat to the local water board. At best you make what they sell expensive. Forcibly making coal more expensive hurts consumers of coal power more than it does coal companies.

Klinger is all innocent about the second point in the RICO letter: We didn’t want to shut down speech, he says, only bring a few ‘giant corporations’ to court for fraud. Even there he admits the ‘standard for finding fraud is quite high’, is not sure whether a case would clear the bar, all while hoping such a case would be ‘a relatively limited affair’. Furthermore, after signing the letter, Klinger is suddenly concerned that there might be ‘squelching’ of  ‘the free speech of scientists’ themselves.

As Paul Matthews notes, with this degree of confusion it is evident Klinger should not have signed the letter at all.

The tobacco master settlement agreement and the course of actions that led to it serve as an inspiration and a template to the climate movement. In anticapitalist discourse, advertising creates unnatural demand for nonessential goods (like the shiny Yellow Hummers whose sole purpose is to consume more of the oil industry products). When fighting against it, an activist can only rail against greed, consumerism and ‘consumption’ (and look foolish). In puritannical abolitionist discourse, ‘addiction’ serves in the same role. But ‘addiction’ has a special edge—you can ignore the buyer (he’s helpless, ‘addicted’) and go after the dealer, in a legal setting.

Second is the power of the ‘internal documents’. Tobacco executives appeared before the US Senate to declare openly they did not think nicotine was addictive. Internal tobacco company memos and documents were later used to show that executives ‘knew’ about the addicting properties of tobacco. This was one of the reasons behind the abolitionists’ ‘they knew!’ success.

Climate activists presently attempt to follow both templates: the world is ‘addicted’ to fossil fuel – meaning not that it wants, desires or craves oil (which it does) but that it is not responsible for its state. Who are responsible? Companies that sell these products. As for the ‘secret internal documents’, a couple of newly minted ‘science journalists’ from the Tom Levenson school of science journalism have attempted to establish Exxon ‘knew’ the dangers of CO2 but chose to keep mum about it, using a tranche of old typewritten documents.

For climate activist zealots, it is immaterial that the square peg of CO2 does not fit in the round hole of tobacco. Any new rhetorical toy is a welcome addition for the exhausted, intellectually threadbare lot of arguments so jam it in they will. All the better if the toy has a proven track record of ‘success’ in a morality play.

But what about climate scientists themselves? They should see through that people use oil and coal products not from ‘addiction’ but because they are indispensible to normal daily life. The type and nature of their benefits are unlike tobacco’s. What about the absurd argument that Exxon ‘knew’ how bad climate change would in 1977? One hates to admit it but yes, Wikipedia’s William Connelley is right—Exxon knew as much as anyone else about the climate and what they ‘knew’ internally is what they declared externally. There is no ‘gotcha’.

Nor can there be one either. The very question of what is ‘known’ vis a vis anthropogenic climate change, i.e, set beyond reasonable doubt, remains in contest to date. What can said to be known when the IPCC has yet to say what it truly ‘knows’ with any rigor beyond appeals to ‘consensus’ and ‘expert judgment’?

Klinger himself admits to the latter. He lays out, though not explicitly, how the case for the consensus is riddled with holes. To prove he’s no alarmist, he points out he and his boss Shukla wrote papers pointing out the contribution of natural factors in 20th century climate change. Klinger says the paper is an example of their scientific equanimity. It is absurd to think he and Shukla should be considered unbiased for publishing such papers whereas Exxon should be thrown in jail were they to have referenced it.

Though Klinger inadvertently admits several points and caveats he refuses to cave in fully. What he does insist is being allowed to score points against ‘corporations’ by bringing civil suits against them, even if only briefly and futilely, simply because they just deserve their day in court. This is extrarordinarily political, activist, and short-sighted. Surely this sort of bottled-up political yearning and frustation in scientists is … dangerous?

However, it doesn’t end there. In a last gasp, as he realises the turn the letter his signed has taken Klinger argues his critics, being the advocates for free speech that they are, ought not restrict his freedom to shut down his critics from speaking freely. A fitting colophon to the RICO debacle indeed.

VW and Ecomodernism

In the battle against global warming it is tradition that popular media outlets tiptoe around the unintended consequences of the battle. But with the rolling Volkswagen debacle the storyline has been so irresistible journalists and copy-writers have not been able to help explaining. How global warming caused CO2 to be a pollutant, led VW and European car manufacturers to turn to diesel, how diesel made other potent pollutants, and finally led Volkswagen to sell its soul.

But there is an undiscussed link: the train of thought behind the EU push for diesel is the same as the ecomodernists. Behind the thinking of both is the fiction that via a complex meshwork of regulation and ‘innovation’, the impossible would become possible. The logic of the EU in encouraging diesel was that it released less CO2 and that the resulting pollution could be cleaned up by technology. Except the cleanup leads to increased cost, reduced engine power, and as in the case of Volkswagen, cheating.

It is inescapable that if you take a hydrocarbon fuel internal combustion system and strangle the exhaust, either to control CO2 or pollutants, you will lose power. This loss of power will feed back in any number of different routes to defeat the original objective. In the words of Emerson, when it comes to energy use it is ‘best to pay scot and lot as you go along’.

If Volkswagen had put a fraction of the ingenuity that went into its supposed defeat devices into questioning the basis for the CO2 rule it tried to rigorously adhere to, it wouldn’t have found itself in the pickle it is currently in.

The Anderegg 97%

The nonsensical ‘97%’ number has became entrenched in climate propaganda. At one time, papers by William Anderegg and Peter Doran were employed to promote the figure. This may come as a surprise but neither paper can support it. What is incredible is that researchers like Bart Verheggen, who unlike John Cook and his associates, can reasonably be expected to be more balanced, promote and believe Anderegg et al 2010 supports the ‘97% consensus’ claim.

Take a look at this:

You conduct a study in which you classify people as ‘Convinced by the Evidence’ or ‘The Unconvinced’. According to your definition, ‘Convinced by the Evidence’ are those who wholly believe in the human effect on climate, as laid out in a certain intergovernmental report.

You fill most (~70%) of the ‘Convinced by the Evidence’ category, with names drawn from authors of the same intergovernmental report. Because after all, they were the ones who wrote the very report that forms your criteria.

You come up with the conclusion: ‘Almost all actively publishing climate researchers (~97%) believe in the human effect on climate.’

This type of reasoning is circular inference. The people in the CE category are in there, by virtue of fulfilling criteria attributed to material they themselves put together: you declare the IPCC to be ‘consensus’, you include IPCC authors into the consensus group for having written the IPCC report. Voila!

The authors place 619 climate researchers’ names in the CE category from the author lists of the IPCC Working Group I Fourth Assessment report; they add 284 from voluntarily-signed statements by scientists, bringing the total to 903. When researchers with less than 20 peer-reviewed papers were excluded, the total shrinks to 817. Even if one assumes all 86 who were removed were solely IPCC authors, one is left with 533 names. In other words, a substantial 65% of the final ‘Convinced of the Evidence’ is a result of flawed methodology. Names for the ‘Unconvinced’ (UE) were pulled together from signed statements indicating dissent with IPCC orthodoxy.

Does the flaw affect the authors’ conclusions? Prior to application of the chosen ‘expert credibility’ metric, i.e., ‘publication of >20 peer-reviewed papers’, the numbers in the two categories are: CE 903, and UE 472. After its application, these become CE 817 and UE 93. The CE category remains significantly undiminished (p<0.0001, chi-square) due to a high proportion of its members being IPCC WG1 authors. Scientists are chosen as IPCC authors by virtue of being academically active in their field of study – the very criterion evaluated by the ’20 publications’ cutoff.

Thus, contrary to the authors’ claim about publication cutoffs not ‘differentially favoring’ a group, their method does have such an effect. The first error lies in the preanalytic step – one category is topped up with active scientists, selected by non-independent means. The circularity persists in the analytic step – the groups are then tested to see which of them has more active scientists.

The authors apply numerical metrics to identify the category (CE vs UE) that has greater expertise — more scientists implies more expertise, and more publications implies more expertise. They study (a) number of total climate publications, (b) top 50 most-published researchers, and (c) average citation count of second through fourth most cited papers.

The circularity however renders such exercises essentially uninformative. All Andergegg et al can tell us, is that actively publishing scientists – like those who are invited to write IPCC reports – usually have >20 papers to their credit. One would hope this to be the case.


According to NYU journalism professor Charles Seife and Paul Thacker there is a ‘backlash’ against transparency in science. ‘Backlash’ implies reaction from a multitude of independent parties against an initial threat. However the basis for Seife and Thacker’s claims rests largely on one source: protests from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Their unfamiliarity with their subject leaves them at sea: UCS’s contradictory position on transparency in science is almost entirely a product of their support of Michael Mann’s actions. That does not constitute a ‘backlash’. One swallow does not a summer make. Seife and Thacker should realize this whole drama surrounds just one scientist’s attempts to withhold his email and data from disclosure.

H/T harkin1:

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